Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Gask Frontier

My interest in Roman history began when I lived in Shropshire.  Much was made of the archaeological find at Wroxeter and now it is a thriving visitor attraction.

Scotland too has a fascinating Roman history and I'm delighted to learn that, at last, the fort near Stracathro Hospital, on the border of Angus and Perthshire, is being surveyed by archaeologists.

The site is the world's most northerly Roman fort although that accolade is now threatened owing to the discovery of new possible Roman fortifications north of Inverness and the Moray Firth in the 1990s.  They have yet to be verified by the RCAHMS that they are true Roman structures.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

The Gask Ridge system is said to have been constructed between 70 and 80 AD and was completed 42 years before construction started on Hadrian's Wall.  The Antonine Wall was started 12 years after completion of Hadrian's Wall and although the Gask Ridge was not a wall, it may be Rome's earliest fortified land frontier.  The fortifications roughly follow the boundary between Scotland's fertile Lowlands and the mountainous Highlands.

How the Gask Frontier fitted into the framework of Roman activity in Scotland isn't known, but it appears to have been short-lived and to have been deliberately demolished by the Romans.

Unfortunately, what little remained has been dug up by modern agriculture machinery and it's unfortunate Scotland can't promote 'The Roman Gask' to attract visitors to the country, although Ardoch Roman fort has survived and is well worth visiting. It doesn't feature on the Visit Scotland website I notice.

A long term study project by the University of Liverpool, states that 'it now seems that the Gask system is the first Roman land frontier anywhere'.

Before winter sets in - or 8 September when the survey supposedly finishes -  I hope there will be a day free of rain when I can visit Stracathro to hear further discoveries.  My wish for a rain-free day may not be fulfilled if this summer is anything to go by.


Joe Public said...

Further evidence eh, of the rebelliousness of the highlanders to foreign subjugation. ;-)

subrosa said...

Ah Joe, I didn't post this as a subtle independence message. :)

RMcGeddon said...

Siting their fort near to the hospital was a good move. Casualties would have been seen to more quickly. Within the 3 month window anyway ;)
I hope the archaeologists are enjoying our lovely summer weather.

JRB said...

Fascinating stuff.
Subrosa - be brave - ignore the weather, if necessary don the waterproofs - just get there.

Out of interest -
There is strong argument for the existence of Roman fort here at Galcantray, Cawdor on the banks of the River Nairn.
The ground layout and carbon dating of remnants strongly indicate it to be of the Agricola era. Being no signs of destruction are decay, archaeologists have assumed that the fortification was in fact dismantled, which would tie in nicely with Agricola's sudden and rapid withdrawal in about 85 AD.

Speaking to a local archaeologist, he believes the structure was a logistics base for the Roman fleet, known to have been sent to sail along the Moray coast after the battle of Mons Graupius by Agricola.
The mouth of the River Nairn is easily identified from the seaward side, and the fortification is sufficiently far upstream to have allowed easy access to the mature woodlands above Cawdor, whose timbers could have expedited ship repairs.
In addition the fortified camp could have been garrisoned by a few men tasked to obtain food and other essentials for the return journey.
(There is a similar argument for the, as yet unconfirmed, northerly site at Portmahomack)

A couple of articles on the subject which you may find interesting can be found at the Inverness Archive Centre re; the Roman Site at Galcantray, Cawdor -

Demetrius said...

The trouble with "forts" etc. is that they concentrate the attention on the military function. But what about the trading function? We know that the Romans traded extensively and we also know that for thousands of years trading across land depended often on defensible locations to shelter the "caravans" or moving groups. The merchants needed safe havens.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Demetrius - now they only need tax havens.

Ah well, such is progress?

Joe Public said...

Being reminded about the famed Scottish (cold 'n wet) weather plus the angry midges, are the archaeologists sure they're forts & not prisons for southern miscreants?

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Demetrius, the village I live in has a Norman Kirk in it, the one directly to the South has one, as does the one directly to the North.

All three are in a straight line, two are on hills and one is near a natural harbour on the Forth,exactly between Cramond and Bo'ness on the line of the Antonine Wall.

I'm pretty sure they were watchtowers originally, but after the withdrawal of the second century would not such strongpoints have been used by the locals or imported foederati?

It isn't far from the Cat Stane which is a bronze age megalith that has been used as a fifth century headstone with a rough Latin inscription.

Fascinating stuff.

Demetrius said...

Half a crown each way on the Fourth Cohort of Gauls being involved.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Aye, there was a now lost altar, which indicated a cohors equitata unit here.

JRB said...

Much of what is being discussed took place during the time of the Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola.
Fortunately for us all, his son-in-law Tacitus wrote his biography including a history of ancient Britain, titled 'De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae'. Copies of which remain with us to this day.

So, some bedtime reading for all
... for the scholars amongst us, the latin version -

... and for the rest of us, an english translation -

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Thanks JRB, but we cannot take what remains of the Roman narrative as 'the truth'.

What happened to the Ninth Legion?

JRB said...


Just for you -

and -

subrosa said...

Auch RM, you jester you. :)

subrosa said...

I intend to do that JRB. Unfortunately I've no friends interested so I'll have to take my chances but it's not far so nothing much to lose.

Yes I read about that, part of the Moray Firth explorations.

Thank you for the history, I and I'm sure others, will appreciate it.

subrosa said...

The likes of Wroxeter in Shropshire involved trade Demetrius but of course the Gask Road was mainly concerned with protection. The likes of Ardoch, which was a much bigger settlement, would have had trading facilities. I must visit there again and see how far it's developed.

subrosa said...

We don't have so many midgies in the east right now Joe, but they are around I'm told.

subrosa said...

Fascinating stuff indeed Conan.

subrosa said...

JRB, I picked the English translation purely because time was limited. :)

It would take me a while to translate from Latin these days. We seldom have the opportunity. My German skills have also deteriorated for a similar reason.

Brian said...

Does Paterson and Macnaughton's The Approach to Latin ring a bell with anyone?

"In order that the barbarians may be defeated, a wooden fort was constructed by the legion" - happy days.

subrosa said...

No bells ringing here Brian but your quote could be just as applicable today in many ways.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Ut barbari victi legio construxit castellum ligneum?

Romanum pedicaba ubique erant.

Gratias Catallus.

JRB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RMcGeddon said...

O/T ...there's nowhere to post comments on your new post above SR. I was going to say that if you go to the Comet website you can check if they have the item that you want at the local store. You just type in your post code. You can normally haggle a free delivery in the store as well.

subrosa said...

I noticed that too about comments missing on that post RM and don't know what's happened.

The reason I went to Perth to Comet and Currys was because I didn't really know what I wanted and also I needed to measure the machine very accurately as the space was tight.

Comet also have a delivery chart on their site but when the store checked it an hour later, there were no deliveries here for a week. Haggle in Perth Comet? Mmmm.

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